There’s a divide in dog agility and it’s not between winners and losers; and not between pros and amateurs. The divide is more subtle, and it exists amongst all levels of people competing in this sport. It has nothing to do with the success or aspirations of the competitor; it has little to do with the type of training the dog has. It’s an attitude; a viewpoint. Chances are you’ve never looked at it this way; so I hope you take a moment to really consider for yourself which side of the divide you fall on if you play this game.
Dog as Racquet
One side of this divide is that handlers whose dogs are like a tennis player’s racquet. The tennis player needs the racquet, spends money on the racquet, takes excellent care of the racquet, and enjoys playing with the racquet. But the racquet is replaceable and doesn’t get a say in anything. The racquet is the vehicle through which the tennis player gets to compete. When one racquet is worn out, it is time to pick up the next one. A professional likely has a racquet waiting in the wings, ready to pick up the job of “sole racquet” when it is time.
There is nothing wrong with this competitor. So long as her dog is cared for I have no qualms with a person experiencing the sport this way. A lot of competitors at the top of the sport (and more in the middle than we might guess) experience agility as something they would do regardless of the dog they found themselves with. If one dog didn’t work out for the game, they’d get another one. Again, so long as all dogs are cared for I think this experience should be more readily accepted by all of us.
Dog as Doubles Partner
The alternative is the competitor who sees her dog as her doubles partner. She is a team with her dog in all ways; they play this game together. They must both be in the game, and if one is unable to play the other must also sit it out. She loves the sport, and she values her teammate. She doesn’t dwell too much on a time when she won’t be playing next to this special being; they are playing together now. For this player, if her teammate is suddenly struck down by injury or worse, she may need a break, not only to find a new partner but perhaps to find a new love for the game.
Does it matter?
I’ve been clear thus far; I take no issue with competitors falling on either side of the divide so long as the dog in question is given good care and fair training. So why even bring it up? Does it matter if the dog is the racquet or the doubles partner?
No. But also, yes.
It matters little how a person perceives and experiences a sport. It should not affect our own experience. There are a lot of good people playing singles out there; people I admire, people I have learned a lot from. It’s important for me to acknowledge and release the way they are playing because I am going to be playing doubles, every single time. If I expect others to be playing doubles–when they are in fact out there with their favorite racquet–I may misinterpret some of their behavior. I may fall victim to judge-y thoughts or actions. I might even miss out on a learning opportunity or a friendship. Whenever groups of people get together on a common playing field it’s important for all of them to consider the culture of the game from others’ perspectives. We can then grow into a more cohesive community that is capable of achieving common goals.
Wherever you fall, keep the common interest of top-notch dog care and training at the top of your priorities, and if you find yourself passing judgement, consider if your fellow competitor’s perception is simply different from your own.